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Question

355. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she has any plans to review the regulations governing the provision of free legal aid; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42922/15]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I wish to advise the Deputy that there is no waiting period associated with the granting of criminal legal aid under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962; the Courts, through the judiciary, are responsible for the granting of legal aid upon the applicant's appearance in Court. A new Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Bill is currently being drafted which will update and strengthen the system of granting legal aid including transferring responsibility for the administration of the Scheme to the Legal Aid Board thus consolidating responsibility for legal aid schemes with the Board.
Civil legal aid is provided by the Legal Aid Board which is independent in the exercise of its functions, in accordance with Section 3 (3) of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1994.
However, in order to be helpful to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made of the Board and I have been advised that the Board has carried out a number of initiatives to improve the service it delivers:
- The Board continues to make effective use of private practitioners in District Court cases to help reduce the number of clients waiting for legal services. The use of private practitioners is designed to improve access to legal aid services in situations where a law centre is not in a position to provide a timely service. 5,194 cases were referred to the District Court Private Practitioner Scheme in 2014, a decrease of 8% on the 2013 figure of 5,640.
- The "triage" system of providing early advice to clients was implemented in 2012 as a means of responding to the increased demand. The objective of this approach is to ensure that every applicant gets an advice appointment with a solicitor on a timely basis. An evaluation of the triage approach took place in 2014 and determined that it was effective and it is now in place in all law centres.
- Since the Family Mediation Service came within the remit of the Legal Aid Board in November 2011 a very strong emphasis has been placed on reducing waiting lists nationally to ensure that the service complements that of the Board’s law centres and that people who wish to try and resolve matters through mediation are not waiting longer than three months for an appointment with a mediator. The total number of cases dealt with by the mediation service in 2014 was 2,262 which was 6% higher than the number of cases (2,131) dealt with in 2013. There were 888 agreements reached which is 15% higher than the 2013 figure of 769.
- The Dolphin House initiative which is a court related mediation initiative has achieved more that 1,200 agreements since its commencement and has been established on a permanent basis. The Board has also extended this service model to Naas and Cork and, more recently, Tipperary and Limerick in co-operation with the Courts Service.
- The piloting of mandatory information sessions about ADR/mediation as a pre-requisite to getting a legal aid certificate to go to court in family law disputes involving children commenced in Cork in July 2014, Athlone in October and Castlebar in January 2015.
- The approach to be adopted in the delivery of legal services in the Coroners Court was agreed by the Board and my Department in November 2014. The Board will grant legal aid certificates and has responsibility for the operation of the Private Practitioner Scheme whilst my Department will provide administrative assistance.
- The Refugee Documentation Centre provides an independent and confidential query and research service for Country of Origin Information to all agencies in the asylum process. It processed 1,394 queries in 2014. It also manages the Board’s library and information service.
- The Board continues in its efforts to reduce non-pay and non-legal costs in order to free up more resources for service delivery.
The table shows the numbers waiting for Civil Legal Aid for the last five years.

Year 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
Number waiting 3,412 5,067 5,014 4,443 3,153

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the number of persons waiting for Civil Legal Aid at 1 October 2015 had dropped to 2,684 and I am assured that the Board keeps the delivery of its services under constant review with a view to getting legal services to those most in need of them as quickly as possible.